Ranji Trophy: Karnataka boosted by return of Rahul

A confident Karnataka side welcomed the return of K.L. Rahul for a mid-season Ranji Trophy clash against Rajasthan, which commences at the P.V.G. Raju ACA Sports Complex here on Sunday.

K. L. Rahul will feature in his first competitive outing since injuring his hamstring in September.   -  K. Bhagya Prakash

A confident Karnataka side welcomed the return of K.L. Rahul for a mid-season Ranji Trophy clash against Rajasthan, which commences at the P.V.G. Raju ACA Sports Complex here on Sunday.

Rahul will feature in his first competitive outing since injuring his hamstring in September. Fellow batting mainstay Manish Pandey, who split a webbing in the previous fixture, will not take the field here.

Karnataka head coach, J. Arunkumar, stated that opener Mayank Agarwal — he has scored one fifty in eight appearances so far — could be pushed to two-drop. “Mayank has been getting out to great deliveries bowled in seaming conditions, so we want him to get a good hit at No. 4. Rahul will open,” he said.

With an in-form Karnataka (three outright wins in four matches) perched on top of the pile in Group B, a change in the batting order causes little concern.

A dry pitch could prompt the team management to play three spinners in Shreyas Gopal, K. Gowtham and Abrar Kazi. The trio did duty in Karnataka’s victory over Vidarbha in the previous round. Pacers Vinay Kumar and S. Arvind, who took 12 wickets between them in that outing, will spearhead the attack.

Rajasthan, fourth on the leaderboard, did well to gain the first-innings lead against Odisha at Patiala last week, but failed to record a win. Up against a formidable opponent here, it will need to fire on all cylinders to make a mark.

Skipper Pankaj Singh, the tournament’s highest wicket-taker with 28 scalps, remained unfazed. “The pressure in on Karnataka, because they are expected to continue their good run. We have nothing to lose,” he said.

In a squad which has a fair share of young talent, middle-order batsman Salman Khan has stood out. The 17-year-old recorded a century on his first-class debut, at Patiala. Left-hand bat and left-arm orthodox spinner Mahipal Lomror, 16, is another player to watch out for.

Squads:

Karnataka: Vinay Kumar (capt.), K. L. Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, R. Samarth, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Stuart Binny, C. M. Gautam, Shreyas Gopal, S. Arvind, K. Gowtham, Kaunain Abbas, Ronit More, Arjun Hoysala, Abrar Kazi and Pawan Deshpande.

Rajasthan: Pankaj Singh (capt.), Manendar Singh, Pranay Sharma, Ashok Maneria, Chetan Bist, Lomror Mahipal, Aniket Choudhary, Tanveer ul-Haq, S. Dobal, Rajesh Bishnoi, Amit Gautam, Rahul Chahar, Deepak Chahar, Salman Khan and Ankit Lamba.